Friday, October 20, 2006

Why Nancy Pelosi is the cure for all that ails us

My latest diavlog -- with the lovely Ann Althouse -- is up and running over at Among the topics discussed:

1) Why everything Hugo Chavez touches turns to ashes (SIDE NOTE: How bad is Chavez's streak? He's losing to bloggers!!);

2) How free should free speech be on campus?

3) Is reality TV like virtual reality?

4) Blogging tips from Ann and Dan!! and,

5) Why I think Nancy Pelosi will solve all our social ills.

Am I serious about Pelosi? You'll have to click and see!!

Among the exciting visual changes -- I move to a comfy chair and change my beverage of choice.

I might add that Professor Althouse, who is a generation older than I, looks about five years my junior in the video. No wonder she's constantly getting her picture taken for brochures.

posted by Dan at 10:44 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

So you think you know something about world politics

Foreign Policy has a killer eight-question quiz to test your "global knowledge."

Go check it out. I only got six out of eight correct, and I confess that I guessed on more than one of them.

posted by Dan at 07:53 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

North Korea says they don't need no stinking tests

Despite reports earlier this week that North Korea had been planning three more nuclear tests, there are fresh reports that North Korea is saying there will be no more tests. From the Korea Times:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il told a ranking Chinese envoy that his country has no plan to conduct additional nuclear tests, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Friday (Oct. 20).

Quoting an unnamed diplomatic source in Seoul, Yonhap said Kim made the promise in his meeting with Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, who visited Pyongyang as Chinese President Hu Jintao's special envoy earlier this week.

"Kim was known to have clarified his stance that there will be no additional nuclear test," the South Korean news agency quoted the source as saying.

It said that if Kim's position is confirmed to be true, it will raise hopes for the resumption of the six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program and defuse the tension escalated by North Korea's detonation of a nuclear bomb on Oct. 9.

Reacting to the news, Glenn Reynolds asks: "Is it because diplomacy worked? (Yay, Condi!) Or is it because his scientists told him there was no chance of a pulling off a successful test any time soon?"

I'd say the answer is "none of the above." I'd have to go with "threats of Chinese economic coercion":

China is weighing tough measures to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions, with government experts calling for the reduction of critical supplies of oil and food that have helped sustain its isolated, impoverished neighbor.

The options Beijing is considering mark a break from even the recent past in which China has preferred to use incentives rather than threats with Pyongyang. But the Oct. 9 nuclear test further frayed already damaged ties and strengthened the hand of critics who believe Beijing should take a harder line against a country they say has ignored Chinese interests.

On Friday, all four major Chinese state-owned banks and British-owned HSBC Corp. said they have stopped financial transfers to the North - a step beyond what U.N. sanctions require and a likely blow to a weak economy that relies on China as a link to the world financial system.

Even before the nuclear test, with its patience wearing thin, China reduced food aid by two-thirds to the chronically food-short North this year, according to the U.N. World Food Program. After voting last week for the U.N. sanctions that ban trade in military and luxury goods, China stepped up inspections of the trucks crossing into North Korea.

"There's no doubt that China is increasing pressure," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. "If North Korea continues to behave in this way, go down this path, China will be forced to take more severe measures."

I shiuld confess that I have a theoretical stake in this answer -- but I don't think eirther diplomacy alone or Kim's worries about technical screw-ups are sufficient to explain this climbdown. Indeed, on the latter moltivation, one of the reasons to conduct nuclear tests is to figure out how to prevent mistakes in the future. The DPRK's first test -- which was a partial failure -- increased the incentive to conduct more tests.

Whether the DPRK returns to six-party talks remains to be seen.


posted by Dan at 11:54 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Does losing Tom Friedman mean losing middle america?

It seems that a lot of people in the Bush administration read Tom Friedman's Tuesday column, which characteizes recent Iraqi insurgency tactics to, "the jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive."

ABC reports that this came up in Bush's interview with Georege Stephanopolous:

Stephanopoulos asked whether the president agreed with the opinion of columnist Tom Friedman, who wrote in The New York Times today that the situation in Iraq may be equivalent to the Tet offensive in Vietnam almost 40 years ago.

"He could be right," the president said, before adding, "There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we're heading into an election."

"George, my gut tells me that they have all along been trying to inflict enough damage that we'd leave," Bush said. "And the leaders of al Qaeda have made that very clear. Look, here's how I view it. First of all, al Qaeda is still very active in Iraq. They are dangerous. They are lethal. They are trying to not only kill American troops, but they're trying to foment sectarian violence. They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort and will cause government to withdraw."

Meanwhile, in a Time interview, Dick Cheney brings up the analogy on his own:
The other thing that I'd mention, too, not really in response to your question: I'm struck by the fact that what's being attempted here is to break our will. (New York Times columnist Thomas) Friedman has got an interesting piece today on it, talking about the extent to which the enemy in this stage in Iraq aim very much at the American people... (they) use the media to gain access through technical means that are available now on the Internet and everything else to create as much violence as possible, as much bloodshed as possible and get that broadcast back into the United States as a way to try to shape opinion and influence the outcome of our debate here at home. And I think some of that is going on, too.
The U.S. military also seems obsessed with Tet, as Michael Luo reports in the New York Times (link via Kevin Drum):
The American military’s stepped-up campaign to staunch unrelenting bloodshed in the capital under an ambitious new security plan that was unveiled in August has failed to reduce the violence, a military spokesman said today.

Instead, attacks have actually jumped more than 20 percent over the first three weeks of the holy month of Ramadan, compared to the previous three weeks, said Gen. William Caldwell, the military’s chief spokesman in Iraq.

In an unusually gloomy assessment, General Caldwell called the spike in attacks “disheartening” and added that the American military was “working closely with the government of Iraq to determine how to best refocus our efforts.”....

General Caldwell also raised the possibility that insurgents have intentionally increased their attacks in recent weeks as a way of influencing political events in the United States.

“We also realize that there is a midterm election that’s taking place in the United States and that the extremist elements understand the power of the media; that if they can in fact produce additional casualties, that in fact is recognized and discussed in the press because everybody would like not to see anybody get killed in these operations, but that does occur,” he said.

By almost any measure, the situation in the capital is in a downward spiral.

While it's interesting that the administration is now embracing Vietnam analogies, there's a problem with comparing Iraq now to the Tet Offensive. The two ostensibly share the efforts by insurgents to affect the domestic political landscape of their adversary. Today's New York Times front page spells that out.

However, Tet, was a military reversal of the first order for the Viet Cong and NVA. Is there any evidence, any metric out there, that shows the insurgency in Iraq to be weakening in any way? Even Cheney allows in his interview, "I expressed the sentiment some time ago that I thought we were over the hump in terms of violence, I think that was premature. I thought the elections would have created that environment. And it hasn't happened yet."

Question to readers: given current trends, is there any evidence that it will ever happen?

posted by Dan at 03:01 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

It's my virtual idea!! Mine!! Mine!!

It's been quite the week for news coverage of virtual world. Today the New York Times dogpiles on, with this story by Richard Siklos about how corporations are making their presence known in Second Life:

This parallel universe, an online service called Second Life that allows computer users to create a new and improved digital version of themselves, began in 1999 as a kind of online video game.

But now, the budding fake world is not only attracting a lot more people, it is taking on a real world twist: big business interests are intruding on digital utopia. The Second Life online service is fast becoming a three-dimensional test bed for corporate marketers, including Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Sun Microsystems, Nissan, Adidas/Reebok, Toyota and Starwood Hotels.

The sudden rush of real companies into so-called virtual worlds mirrors the evolution of the Internet itself, which moved beyond an educational and research network in the 1990’s to become a commercial proposition — but not without complaints from some quarters that the medium’s purity would be lost....

Philip Rosedale, the chief executive of Linden Labs, the San Francisco company that operates Second Life, said that until a few months ago only one or two real world companies had dipped their toes in the synthetic water. Now, more than 30 companies are working on projects there, and dozens more are considering them. “It’s taken off in a way that is kind of surreal,” Mr. Rosedale said, with no trace of irony.

Beginning a promotional venture in a virtual world is still a relatively inexpensive proposition compared with the millions spent on other media. In Second Life, a company like Nissan or its advertising agency could buy an “island” for a one-time fee of $1,250 and a monthly rate of $195 a month. For its new campaign built around its Sentra car, the company then needed to hire some computer programmers to create a gigantic driving course and design digital cars that people “in world” could actually drive, as well as some billboards and other promotional spots throughout the virtual world that would encourage people to visit Nissan Island....

Entering Second Life, people’s digital alter-egos — known as avatars — are able to move around and do everything they do in the physical world, but without such bothers as the laws of physics. “When you are at you are actually there with 10,000 concurrent other people, but you cannot see them or talk to them,” Mr. Rosedale said. “At Second Life, everything you experience is inherently experienced with others.”

Second Life is the largest and best known of several virtual worlds created to attract a crowd. The cable TV network MTV, for example, just began Virtual Laguna Beach, where fans of its show, “Laguna Beach: The Real O.C.,” can fashion themselves after the show’s characters and hang out in their faux settings....

All this attention has some Second Lifers concerned that their digital paradise will never be the same, like a Wal-Mart coming to town or a Starbucks opening in the neighborhood. “The phase it is in now is just using it as a hype and marketing thing,” said Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, 50, a member of Second Life who in the real world is a Russian translator in Manhattan.

In her second life, Ms. Fitzpatrick’s digital alter-ego is a figure well-known to other participants called Prokofy Neva, who runs a business renting “real estate” to other players. “The next phase,” she said, “will be they try to compete with other domestic products — the people who made sneakers in the world are now in danger of being crushed by Adidas.”

Mr. Rosedale says such concerns are overstated, because there are no advantages from economies of scale for big corporations in Second Life, and people can avoid places like Nissan Island as easily as they can avoid going to Nissan’s Web site. There is no limit to what can be built in Second Life, just as there is no limit to how many Web sites populate the Internet.

Linden Labs makes most of its money leasing “land” to tenants, Mr. Rosedale said, at an average of roughly $20 per month per “acre” or $195 a month for a private “island.” The land mass of Second Life is growing about 8 percent a month, a spokeswoman said, and now totals “60,000 acres,” the equivalent of about 95 square miles in the physical world. Linden Labs, a private company, does not disclose its revenue.

Despite the surge of outside business activity in Second Life, Linden Labs said corporate interests still owned less than 5 percent of the virtual world’s real estate. (emphasis added)

If corporations are moving into virtual worlds, it's just a matter of time before there are virtal anti-corporate protestors. And when that happens, well, then there's an opportunity for virtal professors of global political economy to enter the scene!!

Fletcher had better watch out. If I'm offered a virtual endowed chair, with the ability to mutate into any animal on earth, and a virtual Salma Hayek catering to my every whim... [You're going to the bad place again--ed.]

Somewhat more seriously, the growth of virtual worlds suggests an entirely new testing arena for social scientists. For example, the highlighted section suggests an intriguing experiment for a marketing professor: what is the power of branding independent of economies of scale?

An even more interesting meta-question -- does the virtual nature of the world remove ethical constraints that exist in real-world testing? Could someone run a virtual version of the Milgram study?

Question to international relations scholars who know something about these virtual worlds -- what IR hypotheses, if any, could be tested in these virtual worlds?

UPDATE: In related virtual news, the Joint Economic Committee has fired a warning show across the bow of the IRS on the question of taxing virtual profits. In related real news, further progress has been made towards an invisibility cloak.

posted by Dan at 08:37 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

From now on, when you hear "Drezner," think of strength, security... and minty freshness!!

Stephen Bainbridge has decided that he needs to rebrand his blog:

After three years of blogging, it's time to do a major rethink. With the blogging "market" increasingly crowded, the model of an eclectic, general interest blog is a less viable one. Perhaps more importantly, I'm just getting tired of the punditry style of blogging. I'm not enjoying writing that style as much; for that matter, I'm not enjoying reading other punditry blogs very much these days....

[A]s far as day-to-day blogging goes, I've pretty much decided to rebrand by repositioning it as what it started out to be; namely, a niche blog focused on business law and economics. So I'll be taking a brief hiatus while I start the rebranding process.

I've always admired Bainbridge's blog, but this last sentence led to a Scrubs-like daydream:
BAINBRIDGE: So I'm thinking of doing more niche-blogging in business law and economics.

BLOG CONSULTANT: Sure, that's a direction you could go, absolutely. But can I just say three little words to you? Desperate Housewives blog. Our research shows that academics flock to blogs where the writer links to attractive pop culture celebrities while talking about them in an intellectual way. It's a whole Whore of Mensa kind of thing.

BAINBRIDGE: But my expertise is in business law -- I don't want that kind of image.

CONSULTANT: Well, I can see you're not really serious about this re-branding concept. I am so leaking this meeting to Variety! (leaves, slams door)

Seriously, for me, half of the fun of this blog is that I can talk about anything that comes into my head. Any thoughts I had to branding the blog disappear when I flash back to some advice Eszter Hargittai once gave me when I was thinking about bringing in guest-bloggers, which went something like: "Your blog is an expression of your identity -- why would you want to dilute or confine it?"

On the other hand, maybe I'm not taking this seriously enough. Writing in to Bainbridge, Bruce Bartlett adds:

I know that there are many blogs I used to read regularly that I now seldom read. The growth of partisanship is part of the reason, but there has also been a decline in substantive discussion.... The reason is simple: it’s hard work to be substantive. After a few months of blogging, most bloggers simply use up their substantive knowledge and must either rehash old hash or venture into areas where their knowledge is lacking.

I think we are overdue for a shake-out among bloggers. There are too many with too little to say. But until there is enough money to attract people who will consistently make the effort to be substantive, I think there is going to be a problem.

To mildly disagree with Bruce two posts in a row, I don't think he's got the whole story. Sure, some blogs burn out and fade away, while others become pale imitations of what they once were. Rather than think of these kind of inexorable trends, however, I suspect that blogs, like much of life, are cyclical. Attentive readers can surely point to days or weeks where it's clear that blogging has not been at the top of my priority list. This doesn't mean that I'm fading away... it (hopefully) means I'm acquiring new forms of substantive knowledge that trickle down onto the blog. That or I'm tickling my children.

Blogging doesn't get old for me because the world stays interesting. Taxes on virtual reality? Hugo Chavez suffering yet another diplomatic reversal? Mel Gibson following the path I've laid before him? I'm there!!

That said, maybe I'm wrong. A (dangeous) question to readers: which blogs do you think started out great but have devolved?

posted by Dan at 08:47 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

What if the Dems take over the Congress?

Bruce Bartlett has an op-ed in today's New York Times that spells out what will happen should the Democrats take over one or both houses of Congress. Bartlett's answer: not much:

As a Republican, I have a message for those fearful of Democratic control: don’t worry. Nothing dreadful is going to happen. Liberals have much less to gain than they believe....

I didn’t make myself very popular by reminding people that Bill Clinton was still going to be president for at least another two years. How were we going to get these measures enacted into law over his all-but-certain veto? Flush with victory and convinced that they had a mandate from the American people to pass a conservative legislative agenda, my friends simply dismissed my concerns as defeatist.

Well, Cassandra wasn’t very popular, either, but she was right, and so was I. Within a year, the conservative revolution was all but over....

For starters, President Bush will still occupy the White House for the next two years. And although his veto pen may have been misplaced for most of the last six years, he found it again this summer.

For another thing, Democrats are unlikely to get more than a very thin majority in the House. If they get the Senate as well, it will not be with more than a one-vote margin. Consequently, effective control will be in the hands of moderates who often work with Republicans on specific issues. In a delicious bit of irony, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, lately excoriated by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, may end up holding the balance of power in the Senate.

As for impeachment and cutting money for Iraq, such actions would be politically insane and the Democratic leadership knows it. They will make the White House pay a price for Iraq, but will ensure that they don’t get blamed for any debacle resulting from failure to provide adequate money for our troops.

Democrats may have more success using Congressional committees to investigate accusations of wrongdoing by the Bush administration, but that will be much harder than they think. The Republicans cut thousands of committee staff positions when they took control, and it will take considerable time to find the money and staff to do any serious investigating.

Also, the Bush White House can simply use all the stalling techniques that the Clinton White House perfected to frustrate Congressional investigations by Republicans. The only thing left to worry about is expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which Democrats will certainly not want to extend. But most of them don’t expire until 2010, so there is no urgency. Anyway, there is no certainty that continued Republican control of Congress would assure extension of the tax cuts. If party control were all that mattered, they would have been extended already.

In short, there is really no reason for conservatives, businessmen or investors to worry particularly about a Democratic victory in November. Congress will be on automatic pilot for the next two years regardless of which party is in control.

Bartlett's take is correct as far as it goes, but it's a bit incomplete.

It is undoubtedly true -- as it was in 1994 -- that a political party can't really execute an ambitious governing strategy from the legislative branch. However, a Democratic Congress would alter the political and policy playing field in one certain and one uncertain way.

The certain way is that the Democrats would get some agenda-setting power. Even if Bush can veto a bill, the Democrats can send up bills that might be politically popular as a way to make Republicans look bad. This is one reason why everyone inside the Beltway believes that a Democratic takeover will lead to a hike in the minimum wage. Hearings will be an even cheaper way of doing this -- and the staffing issue that Bartlett raises seems pretty minor to me.

The uncertain way is that a Democratic takeover gives Nancy Pelosi an effective veto over anything Bush wants/needs from the Congress. What's uncertain about this is the effect it will have on actual policy. Will the Dems act as deficit-cutters beyond refusing to extend some of the Bush tax cuts?

I dunno -- I'll ask the Dems in the crowd to give their provisional answers.

UPDATE: Harold Meyerson's Washington Post column addresses this topic as well.

posted by Dan at 10:27 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What do Boston and Bangalore have in common?

The demand for trained IT workers is having some interesting effects in both India and Massachusetts.

India first -- Somini Sengupta reports in the New York Times that skills shortages could act as a bottleneck for the Indian service sector:

As its technology companies soar to the outsourcing skies, India is bumping up against an improbable challenge. In a country once regarded as a bottomless well of low-cost, ready-to-work, English-speaking engineers, a shortage looms.

India still produces plenty of engineers, nearly 400,000 a year at last count. But their competence has become the issue.

A study commissioned by a trade group, the National Association of Software and Service Companies, or Nasscom, found only one in four engineering graduates to be employable. The rest were deficient in the required technical skills, fluency in English or ability to work in a team or deliver basic oral presentations.

The skills gap reflects the narrow availability of high-quality college education in India and the galloping pace of the country’s service-driven economy, which is growing faster than nearly all but China’s. The software and service companies provide technology services to foreign companies, many of them based in the United States. Software exports alone expanded by 33 percent in the last year.

The university systems of few countries would be able to keep up with such demand, and India is certainly having trouble. The best and most selective universities generate too few graduates, and new private colleges are producing graduates of uneven quality.

Many fear that the labor pinch may signal bottlenecks in other parts of the economy. It is already being felt in the information technology sector....

Demand is beginning to be felt on the bottom line. Entry-level salaries in the software industry have risen by an average of 10 to 15 percent in recent years. And Nasscom, which helps companies wanting to outsource find workers, forecasts a shortage of 500,000 professional employees in the technology sector by 2010....

Higher education is still available only to a tiny slice of India’s young. No more than 10 percent of Indians ages 18 to 25 are enrolled in college, according to official figures. Nearly 40 percent of Indians over the age of 15 are illiterate.

The industry is lobbying hard to allow private investment in Indian higher education. Right now the government allows only nonprofit ventures, and often they are of varying quality or are the brainchildren of politically connected entrepreneurs.

The Commerce Ministry has recently floated the idea of private foreign investment in higher education. Indians account for among the largest groups of foreign students in the United States, and India increasingly sends students to other countries, like Australia and Canada.

[Oh, sure, all this outsourcing to India means demand for jobs there, but not in the U.S.A.!!--ed.] Au contraire, my italicized friend -- the Boston Globe's Robert Gavin reports on what's happening to the tech sector in Massachusetts:
Massachusetts' economic recovery has gathered momentum in recent months, and there's a good reason: The technology sector is back....

Employment in professional and business services, comprising a variety of tech firms, has grown a healthy 2 percent in the last year, twice the rate of overall employment growth in Massachusetts, according to the state Department of Workforce Development. Makers of technology products are bucking the trend of job losses in manufacturing and adding jobs -- more than 3,000 in the last year. Massachusetts tech exports are surging; foreign sales of semiconductor manufacturing and testing equipment nearly doubled in the past year.

Technology has long driven the state's economy. The two technology-dominated employment sectors, professional and business services and manufacturing, account for about one-fourth of state employment, but they capture only a small part of the industry's impact because it increasingly reaches into areas from pharmaceuticals to financial services. High-tech machinery, instruments, components, and similar products account for nearly 60 percent of the state's exports.

Demand for technology workers, meanwhile, is growing. The state's most recent survey of job vacancies, at the end of 2005, showed openings for information technology occupations jumping 13 percent from a year earlier. Monster Worldwide Inc. , which operates the job-matching web site, reported last month that on line job postings for IT workers grew 10 percent in Greater Boston over the year.

The Federal Reserve found in a recent survey of businesses that the supply of technical workers in the Boston region is shrinking to the point of companies boosting wages as much as 15 percent.

"It's not 2000, but it's also not 2001," said Larissa Duzhansky, regional economist at Global Insight of Waltham, referring to the tech boom and bust years. ``The sector has grown at a healthy pace and it's continuing to recover well."

Certainly, the state's technology sector faces a long road to recovery. Professional and business services so far have regained only about half the nearly 70,000 jobs the sector lost in the last recession. Tech manufacturing, which also shed about 70,000 jobs, has recovered only about 5 percent.

But analysts and industry officials add that today's technology industry is different from that of the dot-com craze, when it seemed any company with an Internet domain could attract millions of dollars from investors, regardless of whether they had profits or even products. Today's sector is more diverse and better grounded financially, reaching across an array of markets and technologies....

Global demand for technology products, from cell phones to MP3 players, also is boosting Massachusetts tech firms, which make the equipment for manufacturing such products. Booming electronics companies in China, for example, need the advanced manufacturing and testing equipment designed and made in Massachusetts. Those equipment sales have helped make China the state's sixth largest foreign market, as well as one of its fastest growing.

Sales to China and other Asian nations account for at least 70 percent of sales for Axcelis Technologies Inc., of Beverly, a maker of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, according to Mark Namaroff, senior vice president of strategic marketing. The company, which employs about 1,000 in Massachusetts, has reported double-digit revenue growth this year, while adding about 50 manufacturing jobs.

"Asia, particularly China, is hot," said Namaroff. ``Their growth has meant opportunities for us."

The tech rebound also means more opportunities for tech workers....

Greg Netland, chief executive of Sapphire's parent, Vedior North America of Wakefield, expects the market for tech workers to only get tighter. "The war for talent is back," he said.

This war for talent appears to be a global phenomenon -- be sure to check out the Economist's recent survey for more. Bloggers are mentioned.

posted by Dan at 12:33 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Nice try, Hugo

The BBC reports that Hugo Chavez's efforts to win himself a rotating seat on the UN Security Council do not look like they are going to succeed:

A crucial fight for one of Latin America's UN Security Council seats remains deadlocked.
Guatemala leads the race even though its share fell to 110 votes in the fourth round, ahead of Venezuela's 75 but short of the 124 needed to win.

The race can now be thrown open to other regional candidates, including Costa Rica, Panama and Uruguay....

Diplomats told Associated Press news agency that the campaign of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have hurt his country's chances.

President Chavez denounced George W Bush as "the devil" in a speech at the UN last month.

But Venezuela's UN ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas put the poor performance of Venezuela's candidacy down to lobbying by the US.

"We're not competing with our brother country [Guatemala]," he said. "We are competing with the most powerful country on the planet."

The US has been working behind the scenes to raise support for Guatemala, but the intensity of Washington's lobbying may have been counterproductive, our correspondent said.

It is true that Guatemala would likely be a more pliant U.S. ally than, say, Costa Rica or other compromise candidates. However, the gap between those countries and Venezuela on the UNSC is much, much larger.

So, in this case, the U.S. wins so long as Venezuela loses -- and that looks pretty much certain at this point.

For more on those who did win seats at the UNSC, click here.

UPDATE: Oh, I forgot to mention -- the Chavez-backed candidate for the Ecuadorian presidency suffered a bit of a setback yesterday. Here's the AP report by Monte Hayes:

A Bible-toting banana magnate who favors close ties with the U.S. defied expectations by narrowly outpolling an admirer of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the first round of Ecuador's presidential election.

Alvaro Noboa, Ecuador's wealthiest man, will head to a Nov. 26 runoff vote against leftist outsider Rafael Correa after neither won an outright victory in Sunday's election.

With slightly more than 70 percent of ballots counted, Noboa received 26.7 percent of the vote, compared with 22.5 percent for Correa, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said. The winner needed 50 percent, or at least 40 percent and a 10-point lead over the rest of the field, to avoid a runoff.

Although a runoff had been expected, the result was unexpected because Correa had led recent polls....

"In the second round there are two clearly defined options," Noboa said. "The people will have to choose between Rafael Correa's position, a communist, dictatorial position like that of Cuba, where people earn $12 a month, and my position, which is that of Spain, Chile, the United States, Italy, where there is liberty and democracy."

Because of Noboa's showing, Ecuador's benchmark bond had its biggest gain in at least six years.

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- the U.S. needs more adversaries like Hugo Chavez.

UPDATE: Bloomberg reports that Guatemala still leads Venezuela after the 10th ballot -- though Venezuela caught up to Guatemala in the 6th round.

posted by Dan at 02:18 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

The economics of worlds colliding

I have never played World of Warcraft, Second Life, or any other simulated online game -- the closest I've come was my year-long semi-addiction to Civilization II.

However, for some reason I'm in the middle of one of those punctuated equilibrium in which I become inundated with information about a phenomenon that I was only dimly aware of before the equilibrium was achieved.

So I'm going to inflict all these links on you.

1) Reuters' Adam Pasick reports that the market for virtual goods is beginning to draw the attention of real-world tax authorities (hat tip: Greg Mankiw):

Users of online worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft transact millions of dollars worth of virtual goods and services every day, and these virtual economies are beginning to draw the attention of real-world authorities.

"Right now we're at the preliminary stages of looking at the issue and what kind of public policy questions virtual economies raise -- taxes, barter exchanges, property and wealth," said Dan Miller, senior economist for the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress.

The increasing size and public profile of virtual economies, the largest of which have millions of users and gross domestic products that rival those of small countries, have made them increasingly difficult for lawmakers and regulators to ignore.

Second Life, for example, was specifically designed by San Francisco-based Linden Lab to have a free-flowing market economy. Its internal currency, the Linden dollar, can be converted into U.S. dollars through an open currency exchange, making it effectively "real" money.

Inside Second Life, users can buy and sell virtual objects from T-shirts to helicopters, develop virtual real estate, or hire out services ranging from architecture to exotic dancing. Up to $500,000 in user-to-user transactions take place every day, and the Second Life economy is growing by 10 to 15 percent a month....

The rapid emergence of virtual economies has outstripped current tax law in many areas, but there are some clear-cut guidelines that already apply. For example, people who cash out of virtual economies by converting their assets into real-world currencies are required to report their incomes to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service or the tax authority where they live in the real world.

It is less clear how to deal with income and capital gains that never leave the virtual economy, income and capital gains that in the real world would be subject to taxes.

2) Indiana University's Joshua Fairfield and Edward Castronova have a draft paper entitled, "Dragon Kill Points: A Summary Whitepaper.":
This piece briefly describes the self-enforcing and non-pecuniary resource allocation system used by players in virtual worlds to allocate goods produced by a combination of player effort (the effort required to organize a group and overcome challenges) and the game itself (which “generates the good” – the input here is the time of the design staff).
3) Finally, I stumbled upon the South Park take on the whole World of Warcraft phenomenon. I got to see the entire episode before it was deleted for copyright reasons. This clip provides a nice precis of the show, however:

That is all.
posted by Dan at 10:39 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Maudissez cette culture américaine séduisant!

In the International Heald-Tribune, Eric Pfanner reports that despite rising anti-Americanism in Europe, American television has actually become more popular, not less:

In the Parliaments and pubs of Europe, the United States may wallow in least-favored-nation status. But on European television, American shows have not been as popular since the 1980s heyday of "Dallas," "Dynasty" and "The Dukes of Hazzard."

"What a difference," said Gerhard Zeiler, chief executive of RTL Group, the Luxembourg-based broadcaster that owns Five US and other channels across Europe. "Five or six years ago you could barely find any U.S. series on the prime-time schedules of the market leaders. Now they are back, pretty much on all the major European commercial channels."

RTL, which is owned by the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, recently created an all-American Tuesday night lineup at its flagship channel in Germany, the biggest commercial broadcaster in that country. It starts with "CSI: Miami," the latest installment in the "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" franchise, which airs on the CBS network in the United States, and continues with "House," "Monk" and "Law & Order."....

U.S. producers are taking more risks, creating edgier shows, analysts say, and they are spending more on them in an effort to appeal to audiences in Europe, where American programming is often dubbed into the local language. With revenue from sales of U.S. rights flat, they are also increasingly dependent on international sales to recover the costs.

Meanwhile, European programming budgets are getting squeezed. Advertising revenue at many of the leading channels is stagnant or falling as viewers defect to the Internet and other new media. Yet broadcasters have to fill many more hours of air time as cable, satellite and digital terrestrial channels proliferate. Buying the rights to American shows is much less expensive than producing original ones....

Nick Thorogood, controller of Five US, said British viewers were setting aside any anti-American leanings when they settled down in front of their TVs.

"We are seeing bright, intelligent and beautifully made drama coming out of America," he said. "In the U.K., many people abhor the politics of the U.S. but eagerly embrace the culture."

In other parts of Europe, the embrace may not be as hearty.

The largest broadcaster in France, TF1, added Disney's "Lost" series to its Saturday night lineup last year. Last month it went further, dropping the feature films that it had shown for years on Sunday nights in favor of three episodes of "CSI," lifting its ratings but prompting a backlash from French producers, who are supported with public funding....

In any case, analysts say, American shows again command the kind of universal appeal they last held when a fictional Texas oilman named J.R. Ewing swaggered across European television screens, helping shape stereotypes of America.

"The world and the U.K. were watching when J.R. was shot on 'Dallas,'" Thorogood said.

"Now that kind of thing could happen again."

It would appear that American television producers have pulled off the same feat as other American multinationals -- marketing their wares to anti-American publics.

My favorite quote from the story: "As recently as 1999, Zeiler said, the only American fare shown during prime time on RTL in Germany was reruns of 'Quincy.'"

posted by Dan at 08:53 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

The Lancet study -- the sequel

I've been traveling quite a bit recently, so I'm quite late to the party on the eight page study published in The Lancet which concludes the following:

Pre-invasion mortality rates were 5·5 per 1000 people per year (95% CI 4·3–7·1), compared with 13·3 per 1000 people per year (10·9–16·1) in the 40 months post-invasion. We estimate that as of July, 2006, there have been 654 965 (392 979–942 636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2·5% of the population in the study area. Of post-invasion deaths, 601 027 (426 369–793 663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire.
This is a follow-up to a 2004 study that raised a small ruckus prior to the presidential election claiming that the post-war mortality rate in Iraq was higher than the pre-war rate.

The boys at Crooked Timber, as well as Tim Lambert, have been vigorously defending the study against conservative critics. Megan McArdle is more skeptical, has a raft of posts that critique the study.

This post by Echidne of the Snakes is sympathetic to the study but also cognizant of its flaws, and is worth quoting on two points:

Nobody is happy about the study findings, of course. Let me repeat that: Nobody is happy about the study findings; nobody wants to imagine that many horrible deaths and the suffering that goes along with those or the effect on the survivors....

These point estimates are not as "respectable" as showing them in cold numbers might suggest to some. This is because they are based on sample data and sample data derived from a modified form of random sampling. The confidence intervals that are given in the summary above reflect the added uncertainty caused by this.

I have only one observation at this juncture. The problem with journalistic coverage of statistical analyses is that they tend to focus on the "headline number," ascribing a weight to it that it sometimes does not deserve. In this study, the 655,000 figure is much less important than the fact that the authors can claim with 95% certainty that at least 392,000 people have died in Iraq since the war started. That's the sobering fact.

Readers are hereby invited to comment.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen posts on The Lancet study as well -- and highlights another important fact that explains a large part of my disenchantment with the Bush administration:

[T]he sheer number of deaths is being overdebated. Steve Sailer notes: "The violent death toll in the third year of the war is more than triple what it was in the first year." That to me is the more telling estimate.

A very high deaths total, taken alone, suggests (but does not prove) that the Iraqis were ready to start killing each other in great numbers the minute Saddam went away. The stronger that propensity, the less contingent it was upon the U.S. invasion, and the more likely it would have happened anyway, sooner or later. In that scenario the war greatly accelerated deaths. But short of giving Iraq an eternal dictator, that genie was already in the bottle.

If the deaths are low at first but rising over time, it is more likely that a peaceful transition might have been possible, either through better postwar planning or by leaving Saddam in power and letting Iraqi events take some other course. That could make Bush policies look worse, not better. (emphasis added)

ANOTHER UPDATE: The folks at Iraq Body Count are skeptical.

posted by Dan at 12:02 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Finally, I get to play Mousetrap

In today's New York Times Magazne, Neal Pollack has an amusing essay about how three-year olds play games:

Soon after coming into his Hungry Hungry Hippos stash, Elijah had a friend over. He was very excited to share with his friend, whom I’ll call Cinderella to protect her identity.

“Can I please play Hungry Hippos with Cinderella?” he asked.

“I don’t care,” I said.

“She likes Hungry Hippos! She likes it more than ice cream!”

“Yes, yes.”

In the few days since we’d purchased Hungry Hungry Hippos for Elijah, he’d made up his own rules. This shouldn’t have been a problem for a game that’s essentially a scale model of gluttonous Dadaist anarchy. Unfortunately, Elijah’s rules went: I always win, and you have to do whatever I say. Problems arose.

Elijah: Let’s play Hungry Hippos.

Cinderella: O.K.

Elijah: I get to be the pink one and the yellow one!

Cinderella: I want the pink one!

Elijah: The pink one is mine, Daddy.

Daddy: Don’t look at me, dude.

Elijah: Ahhhhhhhgggh! I want pink! I want pink!

At this point, Cinderella began whacking the pink hippo’s lever. Elijah became, like his favorite hippo’s jaw, unhinged. He, in return, began whacking Cinderella.

The whole essay is pretty funny, but I was struck by this passage about why today's parents buys these games: "This generation of parents, after all, is obsessed with reviving the pop-cultural experience of its own collective childhood."

Speak for yourself, Neal. I buy games for my children for a completely different reason -- I finally get to play the games I was denied as a youth for some reason or another. And as the title of this post suggests, Mousetrap is friggin' awesome.

posted by Dan at 11:53 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)